Karliin Aariak, Nunavut’s language commissioner, worries that the number of Inuktut speakers in Nunavut will decline under Bill 25. (File photo)

Nunavut’s language commissioner worries Inuit language will decline under Bill 25

Amendments to territory’s education and Inuit language laws passed earlier this year

By Meagan Deuling
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

(Updated on Dec. 23)

Nunavut’s language commissioner says that amendments to the territory’s Education Act and Inuit Language Protection Act take language rights away from residents.

That’s because beyond Grade 4, the Nunavut government isn’t required to offer instruction in Inuktut to students until 2039.

“Essentially, generations are being denied their language right by delaying the language of instruction,” said Karliin Aariak, the territory’s language commissioner.

Nunavut’s Official Languages Act recognizes English, French and Inuktut, which gives Inuit language rights in the territory, she said.

And the Inuit Language Protection Act states that parents have the right to have their children taught in an Inuit language.

Bill 25, the bill in question, passed third reading and received assent early last month.

The bill revised part of the Inuit Language Protection Act that set 2020 as the deadline to have Inuktut taught to all grade levels in schools across Nunavut.

That was amended to phase-in Inuktut language of instruction gradually, with the intention of having all grades having access to this by 2039.

Aariak said that the act shouldn’t have been amended without a more comprehensive review.

“What’s going to stop other ministers from changing something in an act that they don’t feel they should be obligated to accomplish?” She said.

While discussing the bill in the legislature, Education Minister David Joanasie said the amendment will allow the department to train, hire and retain enough Inuktut language instructors to fulfil the new timeline.

The minister is “essentially saying we didn’t abide what we are obligated to do, so let’s amend the act so that we won’t go against the law,” Aariak said.

Now that Bill 25 is law, Aariak said her office can’t do anything about how it was amended.

She raised concerns about the proposed changes to the law last year during a special committee hearing.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. also submitted similar concerns last year. Its vice-president, James Eetoolook, said this October that Bill 25 was “cultural genocide,” and urged MLAs to vote against the bill.

Nunavut’s members of legislative assembly unanimously pass Bill 25 on Nov. 5, 2020. (File photo)

While Bill 25 was under review in the legislature this fall, Joanasie said that the 2039 deadline doesn’t mean that instruction in Inuktut will be delayed for 19 more years — that’s just the latest that full Inuktut instruction for all grades must be in place.

Aariak said she wants the department to tell her how Inuktut instruction is implemented, how it will roll out, and what the plan is.

Inuit language is protected under Nunavut language laws, under section 35 of the constitution, and internationally in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, Aariak said.

Despite these language rights, the number of Inuit who speak Inuktut is decreasing, according to a 2019 Statistic Canada report.

Aariak worries that if the numbers are already going down, “by 2039 how much will that number have declined to?”

“A language right is a language right. You either have it, or you don’t,” Aariak said.

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(14) Comments:

  1. Posted by Start your own schools on

    Bill 25 is a disappointment but nothing prevents NTI from starting its own private schools. NTI has the capital and, apparently, the vision. You could wait another two decades for the GN to come around or you could get busy and spend that time doing it yourself. That’s what self-determination is. Put your money where your mouth is.

    • Posted by boris pasternak on

      all languages will dilute and what appears to be dominate language in Canada will become a second language in about 40 yrs the way bc is being populated. Inuktitut language has eroded a lot to; “what Inuktitut language is that” as attempted spoken, even shameful when some kivalliq broadcaster(s) can’t speak it, it’s grade 4 level the way some speak it in current events news caster(s)….

  2. Posted by Peter on

    It is very obvious Inuktut will decline with this bill. Our GN has worked very hard to diminish Inuktut for 20 plus years with their lack of commitment and lack of productivity and resource development for Inuktut.
    With yet another delay do we really honestly this the GN will follow through with Inuktut by 2039! I can guarantee it will be delayed or watered down some more b6 then.
    There is no surprise with the directors and DMs working to delay this but it is truly disappointing for our MLAs to support this instead of going back and demanding better from the staff that has failed for two decades with the auditor general’s reports on their failures but still raising their hands as puppets in support of further assisting in destroying a language. We speak and continue to speak Inuktut in our homes but I wish the education system would be taken more seriously and supported with having Inuktut on the same level as English, build up the capacity for Inuktut teachers, build and finish the Inuktut curriculum and build more Inuktut teaching resources and materials. GN you’ve had 20 plus years to do this, the questions the MLAs should be asking is why can’t the GN do this and what changes do we have to do to get it done.
    So incredibly disappointing.

    • Posted by Let’s B Real on

      How do you go about building up the capacity of Inuktitut teachers? Because this is the central issue here, not some cabal of nefarious DM’s and high level bureaucrats working to undermine Inuktitut. How can anyone take seriously a comment that peddles this kind of non-sense? Let’s have a serious conversation about capacity, not boogeymen hiding in the closet.

      • Posted by Butternut Squash on

        Training Inuktitut teachers is not the job of the Government of Nunavut.

        Training Inuktitut teachers is the job of Nunavut Arctic College, though the Nunavut Teacher Education Program.

        Nunavut Arctic College is supposed to be self-governing with its own president and its own board of governors. The GN minister responsible for Nunavut Arctic College is usually a different person than the minister of education.

        So how come the professional grievance mongers at NTI or the language commission office never ask any questions about the Nunavut Teacher Education Program?

        This teacher education program is a total joke. The biggest jokes are the community based NTEP programs which are total pathetic failures. Most of their graduates are not qualified to be teachers and some are so bad they are not qualified to even be babysitters. This is why they never last, they get frustrated and quit their jobs.

        So why does Ms. Aluki Kotierk and her minions never ask any questions about Nunavut Arctic College and the Nunavut Teacher Education Program? Why?

        Not once has NTI ever asked any questions or said anything about the poor quality performance of the NTEP. Why? My guess is they do not have a clue how the system works.

        • Posted by Peppermint on

          Training Inuktut teachers IS the GNs job through the Arctic College and I agree 100 percent that the Arctic College teacher education program is a joke and set up to fail along with the lack of standardized Inuktut and curriculum and teaching resources and materials for the teachers to use,
          My question would be why the MLAs do not review the auditor general’s reports and ask the tough questions about why the department of education and the Arctic College has been given the green light to continue down the path they have gone, without making any changes and improvements.
          Huge amount of funding goes into the department of Education and the Arctic college with little to show for it. For decades we’ve had managers and directors who have done very little in regards to improving Inuktut in the education system and our leaders our politicians have said nothing and have not raised any concerns or made changes. Who is really running the GN?

  3. Posted by Benjamin Hainnu on

    That is bad news, this needs to be changed, this is Nunavut, our land, if they dont want it, they are the ones that need to move elsewhere, they don’t even need to move out of Canada, language is what make culture whole, passed down generation to generation as you get your skills, you develop more,

  4. Posted by INUKTITUT!!! on

    It should by calling it by its correct language, Inuktitut. Inuktut is an action word. Today’s Inuktut is bastardised to represent Inuit languages.

    Inuktitut starts at home. Stop expecting the Government to teach our children. All a child’s learning should start at home. If we depend on the GN, our children will only learn nepotism and who you know is very important to succeeding with the Governmwnt of Nunavut. Having friends in higher positions of the GN will get you places, not how hard you work.

    • Posted by Get with the times on

      You need to keep moving forward and stop standing still, Inuktitut is also a action word, it only represents the eastern Arctic as Inuktut covers the rest of the Arctic.
      Being short sighted on this does not help moving forward and improving things.
      Of course it starts at home, we could say the same thing about English but fortunately for English there is a curriculum to follow, test books, teaching resources and materials, when our kids spend most of the day at school Monday to Friday there is a great responsibility for the government to provide good education for our kids, we expect better from our government and have Inuktut at the same standards as English in our home territory.
      With better capacity, standards, curriculum, teaching resources thing will improve.

  5. Posted by carl jorgensen on

    It is unfortunate that Inuktitut education is struggling, mainly from a lack of teachers. Criticizing the government or department of education will not create more Inuktitut teachers. Somehow, young Inuktitut speakers must be persuaded to do the training to become teachers, and then stay in teaching. Perhaps a few of the politicians, civil servants, and various board members who are concerned about the quality of Inuktitut instruction could do the NTEP course (apparently it’s so easy) and become teachers themselves.

  6. Posted by It’s about CAPACITY on

    There’s already a shortage of teachers, and even more shortage of Inuttitut speaking teachers. Do we know how many Inuit are willing to become teachers, do we even have enough? Can non-Inuit teachers become proficient in Inuttitut enough to teach the language?
    “What’s going to stop other ministers from changing something in an act that they don’t feel they should be obligated to accomplish?” She said.
    ^Ministers, or even bureaucrats aren’t the problem. Language Commissioner and NTI criticizing for the sake of criticizing is part of the problem. We know what the problem is, more complaints will solve squat. With such a low labor pool, and even fewer Inuit with the wherewithal, how are we going to get the manpower to deliver Inuttitut as language of instruction? Then there’s NTEP, social passing, quality of education, etc. Finger pointing has not distracted us from the real problem, we see the other three fingers pointing back at yourselves.
    This is a capacity issue with no foreseeable short term solutions.

    • Posted by Former teacher on

      The NTEP is not enough, changes and improvements are needed long time ago. Also so many former Inuktitut teachers have left for easier more paying jobs, being a Inuktitut teacher you have to creat most of your own teaching materials and spend more time at school after hours working on teaching materials unlike the other classes being taught.
      Most evenings spent at school working on these until 8-9 in the evenings or even later.

      Not enough support or resources for Inuktitut teachers. We get burnt out after a few years and take a cushy office job at the GN instead.

      This has all been reported for many years now but nothing is ever done about it by our government. I don’t understand why or how people can not blame the government when it’s their responsibility.

      • Posted by Ken on

        Former Inuktitut teachers should be interviewed and get their perspective. I think it would be a eye opener for a lot of us.

        • Posted by Colin on

          Maybe the ones that are not working for the GN, former teachers working for the GN today would probably not be willing to point out the incompetence and dysfunctional way it operates.

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